What is the most important factor affecting your longevity? Is it cholesterol levels? Is it your weight? BMI? Heart rate, fitness, blood pressure? Etc. If you answered yes to any of the above you would still be wrong. It is not known or publicised much, but the best predictor of longevity is your lung capacity. That’s right – your lungs actually shrink from around twenties and by the time you reach 80 you only have 40% capacity of what you had 60 years earlier. As you age, the body does not keep up with replacing the dying cells and the result is a slow deterioration. A statistical correlation can be established linking lung capacity to a predictor of how long you are actually going to live (Framingham Study). Also, the bigger the lung capacity the more vigor, energy and well being you will have. And let’s not forget the ability to fight disease.
So, don’t you think that slowing the deterioration or improving your lung capacity should be your priority number one? It is surprising that doctors do not use a pulmonary function test as one of their tools to help prevent disease. Instead, they will tell you that there’s nothing you can do. Cells die as you age and that’s life – get used to it.
However, let’s look at things from another point of view. Let’s prioritise the 3 necessities for life: drinking, eating and breathing. If you take away any of these, you will die. Without food, after about 4 weeks, without water about 4 days but without air only 4 minutes. These figures are only estimates and will vary between individuals but they give you an indication what is most important. Breathing of course! Then drinking, and food last. You hear a lot about staying hydrated, and there’s a wealth of information about food, but none about breathing. No doctor, dietitian, fitness instructor etc coming up on a tv screen or magazine saying anything about lung fitness. A silence about the stuff you can’t live without for 4 minutes, but information overload about food. Something is seriously wrong here…
Anyway, it is actually possible to reverse the aging process and build strong lungs. The body is a wonderful machine that adapts to the demand. Without it being so, you would not build any muscle. Anyone in body building or power lifting knows that to increase the size/strength of a muscle you need to ask from it more than it can give. In other words, you lift a weight that is heavy enough to do a few repetitions (usually about 10) and after a few weeks you find that it gets easier and you need to increase the weight. Your muscle has adapted to the new demand and has grown either new fibres or the existing ones have increased in size. The same principle works for the lungs – you ask from them for more oxygen than they can give. And after a while a miracle has happened – just like a muscle the lungs have build new bronchi, bronchioles and alveoli.
But isn’t cardio workout or long distance running doing just that? Actually no. The body adapts to this demand by also becoming more efficient. Unfortunately for you that efficiency means it is getting better at storing the energy, fluid retention and saving the available oxygen, but not necessarily at rebuilding the lungs. To do that you need to make sure that you pant – short burst of high intensity exercise followed by rest. This sends a clear message to the lungs that they need to provide more oxygen quickly. Also, you get many more benefits doing this type of training.
In the professional athlete circles it has been known for years that interval training will get you fitter quicker than traditional training like cardio or aerobics. So why is it that the advice you get is the wrong one? One that will get you less fit and actually detrimental to your health?
As a side note, if you look at nature as an example, you will not see any animals that torture themselves like humans by running for miles on and on. They in fact go for short rapid bursts while chasing prey or escaping a predator. So take charge of your health today and rebuild your lungs. Imitate nature – it takes less time than conventional training. In the long run you will be glad that you did.